Bill Frisell Announces 'Music IS,' His First Solo-Guitar Album in 18 Years

(Image credit: Monica Jane Frisell)

The ridiculously prolific Bill Frisell—a guitarist known for his impressive jazz, surf, fusion, roots, Americana and folk-jazz chops—has released a slew of albums in recent years, including 2014's Guitar in the Space Age! and 2017's Small Town. What he hasn't done in a while, however, is release a full album of solo-guitar music.

That, however, is about to change. Frisell has announced a new—truly solo—disc, Music IS, which will be released March 16 via OKeh/Sony Music Masterworks. It marks his first solo-guitar album since 2000's Ghost Town.

"Playing solo is always a challenge," Frisell says. "For me, music has all along been so much about playing with other people. Having a conversation. Call and response. Playing all by myself is a trip. I really have to change the way I think.

"In preparation for this recording, I played for a week at The Stone in New York. Each night I attempted new music that I'd never played before. I was purposely trying to keep myself a little off balance. Uncomfortable. Unsure. I didn't want to fall back on things that I knew were safe. My hope was to continue this process right on into the studio. I didn't want to have things be all planned out beforehand."

He tried to keep that light and spontaneous feeling when recording. The whole process—choosing the tunes, playing the gig, tracking in the studio—ended up feeling like an investigation into memory. There was no planned concept, but what materialized almost felt like an overview. The focus of Music IS is on the telling of musical stories from Frisell's original and inimitable perspective: some of the interpretations being naked, exposed and truly solo, while others are more orchestrated through overdubbed layering and the use of his unparalleled approach to looping.

Recorded in August 2017 at Tucker Martine's Flora Recording and Playback studio in Portland, Oregon, and produced by Lee Townsend, all of the compositions on Music Is were written by Frisell, some of them new—"Change in the Air," "Thankful," "What Do You Want," "Miss You" and "Go Happy Lucky"—others solo adaptations of classic original compositions, such as "Ron Carter," "Pretty Stars," "Monica Jane" and "The Pioneers." "In Line" and "Rambler" (here it above) are from Frisell's first two ECM albums.

"Lee Townsend and Tucker Martine are two of my longtime, closest, most trusted musical brothers," Frisell says. "We've been through thick and thin. They clear the way for me to just PLAY. When we got to the studio I brought a big pile of music and we went from there. Let one thing lead to the next. Trust the process. In the moment. We mixed as we went along. The composing, arranging, playing, recording, and mixing all became one thing."

For more about Frisell and Music IS, visit billfrisell.com.

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Damian Fanelli
Editor-in-Chief, Guitar World

Damian is Editor-in-Chief of Guitar World magazine. In past lives, he was GW’s managing editor and online managing editor. He's written liner notes for major-label releases, including Stevie Ray Vaughan's 'The Complete Epic Recordings Collection' (Sony Legacy) and has interviewed everyone from Yngwie Malmsteen to Kevin Bacon (with a few memorable Eric Clapton chats thrown into the mix). Damian, a former member of Brooklyn's The Gas House Gorillas (opens in new tab), was the sole guitarist in Mister Neutron (opens in new tab), a trio that toured the U.S. and released three albums (opens in new tab). He now plays in two NYC-area bands.